Folklore = plausible deniability

24 Jul

Here, I have tried to analyze what and who each track of Folklore is about.  Which is complex because it’s not in a linear order.  Names are obscured.  Facts may be reality or story.  The narrator is unreliable.  And this whole thing is going to be from a Kaylor perspective, because that’s how the songs, and Taylor Swifts catalog as a whole makes the best sense to me.  I’ll show you what I mean.


1. The One.

Folklore opens with The One which I think is an introduction to what is happening throughout the album.  This song sets the tone for the remaining songs.  Taylor is telling us she is going through memories of all her past relationships and looking at them closely to see what could have been.  Folklore is going to explore what would have happened if Taylor Swift had her dreams come true in every relationship. She sings, “never leavin’ well enough alone” sets it up to show Taylor is still pondering about past relationships and wondering what her life would be like now if they had worked out.  I don’t think this song features any one relationship in particular, but it’s a thought experiment of what if what Swift wanted at the time came true.  “If one thing had been different would everything be different?  Today.”

Features Diana argon movie tag line, about the roaring 20s.  Also they dated when Tay was in her younger 20s. And in this song she sings of digging up the grave, which was in the “Look What You Made Me Do” music video for to symbolize death of a relationship.

Also may feature Joe or other guys-what if Tay had been straight?

Each song profiles different relationships throughout Taylor’s 30 years.  And is a ‘what if’ & thought experiment, which is why it seems like a lot of break up/negative stuff.


2. Cardigan

Things start happening in this song.  The lyrics seem to tell of Taylor’s real life, as I can pick out actual moments from pictures given the lyrics here.  But Taylor, herself, confuses the issue and introduces plausible deniability.  She says in a chat there are 3 songs that describe a ‘high school love triangle’ in different perspectives.  Each is supposed to be from one of the 3 people in this love triangle.  I think Taylor Swift does this for a few reasons:  This creates an alternate universe where the song descriptions may or may not be real life.  Fans can’t automatically attribute these stories to Taylor’s personal life.  It discourages the wild theories and guessing who each song is about in real life, because, after all, these are just characters in a story.  Secondly, this storytelling narrative saves Taylor from any real life lawsuits.  She can tell real events, but obfuscate them by mixing names, places, and facts with fiction.  Taylor tells us that the narrator in Folklore is unreliable.  So nobody can pinpoint any breaking of non-disclosure agreements.  For instance, the names of these 3 people are the children from Ryan Renolds’ and Blake Lively’s actual kid’s names. But I suspect these “characters” are a real people and events, buried in a story.

This particular song is the one that’s supposedly from Betty’s (a.k.a Karlie according to “Betty” later in the album).  But I question that because the voice (voice in the writing sense, not the singing, that’s obviously Swift) in this story sounds an awful lot like Taylor herself.

Except “heartbeat on the highline” is where I heard Karlie’s work loft is located?  The song talks about in cars and downtown bars. Which makes it not a high school song anymore. Sounds more like the time period after “Delicate” in NY.And draw stars around my scars is definitely bringing up when Karlie drew gold stars on Taylor’s collar bone and wrist. 

When you’re young assume you know nothing…  I knew everything when I was young.”  It’s a very gay line that describes having awareness of sexuality at a young age, but other people saying you’re too young to know, it’s just a phase, wait until you are older to decide.  Taylor is telling us she had an inkling when she was just a kid that she was gay (bi?  I think lesbian without knowing all the details, but think if she comes out it’ll be softer like pan, or bi.).


3. The Last Great American Dynasty

This story tells of a brazen gal who married for money, had lavish parties, and was criticized wildly for being unladylike.  

It speaks to Taylor’s Rhode Island house, which she purchased after this real life person.

It also relates to the parties Taylor herself had in her twenties.  She had lots of friends, spent a lot of money, did a big thing on Independence Day every year.  And the media criticized her for spending the money, having a clique, and enjoying her success–especially as a female.  There are parallels in this gal’s life with Taylor’s.

I think the song also speaks of Karlie in a couple places.  Like the unhappy marriage for money/power.  “Her fault his heart gave out.” Might be indicating that Karlie will be blamed if things go sour for Jared Kushner.  And the bitch friends from New York, might be fellow models that Karlie knows.

4.  Exile

To me, this song seems more generic then the others on the album.  Are there hints who it might be about?  Is there a fictional story inter-weaved?  I didn’t really hear either.  But I do think this song serves a purpose for Taylor’s real life story.  Which is another parallel of these fictional characters Taylor says are in Folklore.  Taylor’s own real life is set up in the way this album is:  There is truth buried deep for her and trusted confidants only.  Then, there is the more public, but superficial narrative that she shares with everyone.  Taylor is “dating” Joe Alwin.  But like the ‘teenage love triangle’ it’s just a ruse, or distraction from Taylor’s actual personal life–as a queer person that has gone from one same sex relationship to the next. 

Back to the purpose of this song:  It’s generic because it’s seeding a “break up” with Taylor’s fake boyfriend.   





Exile (take 2)

I changed my mind about the meaning of Exile.  Instead of the break up song that I originally thought it was, I think it’s more along the lines of The Archer and Mirrorball.  I think it might be more about Karlie coming out of the closet sooner (and with less fear/reluctance) than Taylor.  1Taylor sings, “And it took you five whole minutes, To pack us up and leave me with it.”  Is she talking about the burden?  The secret?  Stress and fear of coming out?  Taylor continues, “Holdin’ all this love out here in the hall.”  The person in the hall is in limbo.  They aren’t in either room.  They left the location Taylor is in, but they haven’t gone ahead and gone to the next location.  The person in the hall waits for both of them to go.

This thought is confirmed when Taylor says, “Now I’m in exile, seein’ you OUT.  Taylor is alone but she can see Karlie with more freedom, less fear than she herself has.  But Taylor remembers, “I think I’ve seen this film before, and I didn’t like the ending.”  Film has been a theme throughout Folklore.  Maybe it’s that gay movie again, where all the queer characters end in tragedy.  It could be more observation:  Ellen was initially ruined when she came out.  Other celebrities as well.  Basically, Taylor is saying her fears of coming out are overriding her loneliness of being left behind.

Later in the song, Taylor says, “so I’m leaving out the side door.”  So Taylor wants to leave the closet, but her reluctance and hesitation make her want to do it indirectly–out the side door, instead of a more direct route.

At this point, he (Karlie’s stand in for this track) sings to Taylor:  “So step right OUT.”  This second person is encouraging Taylor to just do it, come out.  They are telling her that the only thing holding her back is her own fears.  He/Karlie continues, “All this time, we walked a very thin line.”  I think it means that their life was never easy as a couple.  They always had to be cautious, beard, hide, go underground.  How much worse could it be by coming out?

The reason I felt like this song was more of a coming out of the closet song, rather than a break up song is the number of times, “signs” are mentioned.  It’s repeated over and over, by both, in layers, repeated and emphasized.  I think Taylor wanted this listeners of this track to really hear the message of this part.  She wants us to remember this part of the song (the story) in particular.  “So many signs, so many signs, You didn’t even see the signs.”  And I think the signs she refers to are ALL the hints over her whole catalog of music, in the lyrics, music videos, Easter eggs, the interviews, the write-ups, what she’s worn.  Who Taylor hangs out with and how much.  ALL THE SIGNS TAYLOR HAS GIVEN HER AUDIENCE THAT SHE IS QUEER AND ALWAYS HAS BEEN.




5.  My Tears Ricochet.

Not every song on Folklore describes a romantic relationship.  I think this song is about Taylor leaving the music label (BMR) that initially signed her.  She sings, “I could have gone anywhere. Just not home.” which is how she initially thought of her label.  Scott B. had been a paternal figure, but also controlling.  He made many decisions about her music that Taylor disagreed with.  And when she left, it wasn’t on good terms.  She was angry and he was mean.  “Wishing I’d stayed.” is a lyric that shows Scott B. liked making money off of Taylor, but refused to have a more collaborative partnership with her, wanting to control her every move.  “Stolen lullabies” is of course, mentioning the masters Scott B. sold to Taylor’s nemesis, Scooter Braun.  And remember how at the time Taylor said there were tears (“Tears Ricochet?!) in her eyes every time Scooter’s name came up.  “Cursing my name, wishing I’d stayed.” reiterates how Scott wasn’t ready to let go of Taylor, the cash cow, and he’s holding her music catalog hostage.


6. Mirror Ball.

Breaking in a million pieces is an indication of the fears Taylor Swift has about coming out of the closet.  The line, “I can change everything about me to fit in” shows life in the closet (hiding queerness)–reflecting back what you think people want, because you are afraid to show your true self. 

“Hush when no one is around…Shining just for you.” It’s a secret.  The shining happens when nobody else is looking. Taylor is spinning and shining for Karlie only.  

The verse about calling off the circus (the Trump administration), the disco burning down (the closet disappearing from around them and their relationship), and sending the rodeo clowns home (the Kushners out of power of the Trump White House and also being out from under Scott and Scooter’s stipulations on the masters) shows how everything is about to change for the better.

“I know they say the end is near.” I am pretty sure Taylor is speaking to Karlie here, about how they are each almost finished with their bearding contracts.  They will soon be rid of their fake relationships (Jared and Joe) so they can be together. 

“I’m still a believer [in real love?] I don’t know why.”  And with that, the song ends on a high note:  Taylor is on her tallest tiptoes because Karlie Kloss is a lot taller at 6’2″.


7. Seven

The companion song to “It’s nice to have a friend” (if you recall “Something gave you the nerve to touch my hand” which is decidedly not a childhood unromantic thing to do).  Taylor describes a very Sapphic relationship with a young PA neighbor in her elementary years.  “Your braids like a pattern” emphasizes the femaleness of this friend Taylor says she loved then, and still loves now.  The line in the song that says, “or hide in the closet” is not an accident.  Taylor is an honest writer and a woman of 30–she knows what that phrase means.  And she used in intentionally.  In telling this childhood story, she’s saying that her queerness is nothing new.  She has had it in her the whole time.  And she’s just now alluding it to her fans, and the public.

Also, each person’s story is not the central position of my song analysis, but I’d be remiss not to mention Taylor also alludes the the fact this girl-neighbor may have been in an abusive household.  It sounds like her father wasn’t a good guy, so that’s a central premise of the song as well as the childhood love component.


8.  August.

This song is supposedly the perspective of the 3rd person in the ‘high school love triangle’ of Betty & James and this person.  Who is it? If anyone. Is this just a generic song to round out the love triangle? 

I’m not sure who it’s supposed to be about, though it does brings up someone’s 1st (female) sexual experience with, “whispers of Are you sure?’ ‘Never have I ever before.'”  “And I can see us twisted in bedsheets.”  This section reminds me of Reputation’s, “…Ready for It?” and “Dress” which are also pretty sexy songs.

But it talks about this 3rd wheel feeling like James was never hers.  And it’s not during high school, because “August slipped away like a bottle of wine.”

Main message in this song, “you were never mine.”  That line is repeated 4 times during the short song.


9. This is Me Trying.

Takes place after “The Archer.” In that one it goes, “Combat, I’m ready for combat” like she’s ready for a fight.  This will not be easy.  She continues, “I say I don’t want that, but what if I do?” This speaks of hesitation.  Taylor fears this announcement.  But also, she wants it.  She’s preparing.  The next line is, “Cause cruelty wins in the movies.” And I think that is telling how every gay movie ends badly.  The queers don’t get that happy ending, just sadness and tragedy.  The last line in this verse:  “I’ve got a hundred thrown-out speeches I almost said to you.”  And she means the fans.  The public.  Taylor Swift is afraid, but wants to come out.  She had many false starts, but she continues to head in the direction.  Think about the Archer’s line, “Help me hold onto you.” and when Taylor sings this song at concerts and says who could leave me, who could stay, you could stay.” And she points at the crowd on the YOU could stay.  This confirms The Archer is addressing the fans.

In this part B of that song, she sings, “I don’t quite know what to say, but I’m here in your doorway.” Taylor is taking to us, her fans. Proof?  “Pouring my heart out to a stranger.” She speaks of trying to come out, but also keep her career. “They told me all of my cages are mental.” It won’t be as scary as she has always feared.  Taylor just has to get out of her head–out of her own way.  She talks about lashing out in past songs. “And my words shoot to kill when I’m mad, I have a lot of regrets about that.”  She’s saying two things here:  1) In telling these stories about break ups with boys, and in laying down Easter eggs as encouragement to analyze her artwork, Taylor has created a monster.  She did it out of fear and anger, but now fans eagerly comb through her songs looking for the real people they might be about.  So now, that she wants to present the more authentic version of herself, it seems like she was disingenuous before.  Which wasn’t her intention.  She is reminding the fans about how much she cares about what we think about her.  2) I think she wants to come out carefully so as not to hurt or anger anyone else, especially anyone who was previously or who is currently in her personal life.


10. Illicit Affairs.

Maybe “break up of Karlie’s marriage” bc she was cheating w/Taylor.  But please, show me the marriage certificate.  Show me an actual marriage record for Karlie and Jared.  She is a model and went to a wedding photo shoot.  He is in a long term relationship with a man named Mike.  He needs a woman to seal his dirty deals.  She was in a long time contract to be his fake girlfriend, and because of Trump’s election, she couldn’t extricate from that cleanly.  Taylor can’t be super mad or upset, because she has also been having fake boyfriends for years.  “Look at this godforsaken mess you made me.. .  Look at this idiotic fool that you made me”  It’s a problem.  It’s a complication.

Enter this song.  It sets up a “real” love triangle.  This shows Karlie “cheating” on Jared with Taylor.  “But they lie and they lie and they lie” is a line that talks about how the relationship is a lie, their position in the White House is a lie, and the way the Kushners make money is a lie.  It’s all fake.  But Swift clarifies, “Tell your friends you’re out for a run [which is a very visible part of Karlie’s social media] You’ll be flushed when you return.” Taylor is spelling out the her and Karlie have sex. 

But in the end, Taylor conveys over and over she will stick with it.  This is not a breakup of Kaylor.  On the contrary, Taylor can only be herself when she’s with Karlie.  Their whole situation is a mess, but she really loves Karlie and no one else does it for her:

“You showed me colors [in screaming color!] I can’t see with anyone else” 

“You taught me a secret language I can’t speak with anyone else.”

“And you know damn well for you I would ruin myself a million little times.”


11. Invisible String.

It’s important that this is the song that follows “Illicit Affairs.”  This track shows all is well with Kaylor.  Despite everything, Taylor believes Karlie is her soulmate. And I think this song is about Karlie, because green is mentioned. Karlie has green eyes. Bad blood is also mentioned though obscured, lyrically. That’s a music video Karlie was in. “Looked like an American” references the interview with a handful of VS Angels where Karlie says Taylor is an American girl.

“Pulled me out of all the wrong arms into that dive bar.” Perhaps the one from Delicate? My biggest hint that this song is about Karlie is “one single thread of gold tied me to you.” Gold.  Color of Leos and fire and sunshine.  The color associated with Karlie.  And I know they’re still happy and together because “Hell was my journey [the journey she’s remembering across the songs in this album] but it brought me to heaven.” And she talks of Karlie being the Lover album’s muse by singing, “Gave me the blues then purple pink skies.”

As a side note Taylor explains that those previous people in her life that made her mad enough to write songs–she’s over that.  Now she sends their children gifts.

I love this song and how romantic a thought that these two people were always meant for each other.  Every failed relationship, every fork in the road–led them on the path right to each other.


12. Mad Woman.

Chapter 2 of The Man.  “Cause you took everything [her masters] from me.  Watching you climb over people like me [other singers] The MASTER [not an accidental word] of spin.” Then Taylor goes low and says, “has a couple of side flings good wives always know.”  She knows she can away with calling him out because she has already explained to the audience that Folklore is just stories.  Scooter Braun cheats on his wife. And Taylor said it.  But maybe she didn’t because remember our unreliable narrator.


13. Epiphany.

In My opinion, a little disjointed of a song. I think it’s about PTSD. 1st regarding war. Apparently about Swift’s veteran grandfather.  Then sickness, probably Covid. The song would be better if there was a 3rd trauma. Or if it covered 1 trauma at greater depth.


14. Betty.

This is the song that unlocks the ‘high school love triangle’ angle of the album.  It’s from James’ perspective, and we know that because the person telling this song is invited into a car by name.

But I spy inconsistencies.  “Betty, one time I was riding my skateboard when I passed your house it’s like I can’t breathe.”  This might sound like a stereotype, and I apologize.  But I’ve known teenage guys, and the ones I have had contact with don’t have the emotional maturity to go breathless about a girl.  The ones I know might think a girl is cute, or have a crush, or want sex, but I’ve never known them at a teen age to get like, no breath about it.  That seems very female to me.  But I’m female, so it’s difficult to go outside my own perspective–just as it was probably difficult for Taylor.  And at the end, James put on Betty’s cardigan.  Does a guy wear his girlfriend’s sweater?  

Taylor was named after James Taylor.  And Karlie Elizabeth (Betty is a nickname for Elizabeth) Kloss is the other female in this story, Betty.  And Taylor mentions the cobblestones, streetlight, and also the garden of the romantic Lover album.  Hello, “Cruel Summer” fame “sneaking through your garden gate just to seal my fate” then Karlie Kloss sells her condo, and featured in the real estate ad is a garden?  And there’s pictures of Taylor going in and out of a garden gate in that same neighborhood.  

So yeah, there’s some high school kids mixed in this song.  And age of 17.  A gym and a school dance.  But that’s just the unreliable narrator again.  Taylor even confirms that she’s James in the “Cardigan” music video–she puts on that cardigan at the end.  And has a knowing look.  Yup, I’m James.  


15. Peace.

From perspective of Karlie Kloss. “I’m a fire…” Remember she’s a Leo, a fire sign. And she goes on to say she’ll keep Taylor’s heart warm. “People think loves for show, but I’d die for you in secret.” Is this Karlie acknowledging the fans on social media who troll her for trying to ‘use Taylor ‘s career to succeed’? Who accuse her of queer-baiting Kaylors to get fans? When, in fact, Karlie deeply loves Taylor in private. In the song, Karlie remembers how Taylor had the butterfly angel wing (that look a lot like ones Karlie walked in one time at a show) mural commissioned in the Lover Era, by saying “you paint dreamscapes on the wall.” It might also mean The Lover music video and Taylor’s art in general, which often (secretly) portrays their love. “Family I chose” is a very gay line, “Now that I see your brother as my brother.” Taylor has a brother, who would be newly related to Karlie if there was a marriage.

The “robbers in the East” might be talking about the Kushners she’s tied to. And the white house that stopped their coming out plans in the Lover Era. And “Clowns to the West” might be Scott B. and Scooter giving Taylor so much trouble with her music catalog. And of course KimYe in LA, who are constantly stirring up trouble for Taylor.

But Karlie emphasizes “I’d give you my sunshine.” That Leo sun again. “The Devils in the details.” Makes me think of DWOHT a kiss gate song where they were outed by someone “grinnin’ like a devil.” It was at that point, Karlie and Taylor hid safely in the closet, ramped up the bearding, and each complicated her individual life, and their relationship. The details she speaks of might be ending the bearding contracts and being together for real without violating any non-disclosure agreements or creating political enemies.

This song is Karlie assuring the audience that she’s suffering also, but she is genuine and she wants to have a real, meaningful, authentic, loving relationship with Taylor.  And it’s going to come back out in the public as soon as those details get sorted out.


16. Hoax.

“My only one”  The first song, The One told us Taylor was looking back at her choices.  now she says the subject of this last song is “my ONLY one”.  I think even more than being about 1 person this song is the bookend that shows bittersweet of what her life DID turn out as after all these choices, endings, breakups… This is the conclusion to the album.  

“Smoking gun” is the clue that unlocks a mystery.  When Taylor is with Karlie, it’s impossible NOT to see their love.  And they got caught kissing.  Karlie outs Taylor because their love is evident.

“My eclipsed Sun.”  The sun again symbolizes Karlie, but also Daylight where Taylor can come out and be openly queer.  Taylor is saying that she is still in shade, because she’s afraid to come out of the closet.  And also Karlie is eclipsed under the shadow of the fake Kushner marriage, and is also partially in the shadows since Kaylor has a hidden, closeted relationship.

“Your faithless loves the only hoax I believe in.” Faithless, because Karlie is cheating on her “husband”. “Your sleight of hand” is Karlie acting like her marriage to a man is real–when it isn’t.

“My best laid plan” is Taylor’s Lover era where she was going to come out. But circumstances prevented it.

She’s also telling that her situation is bittersweet because to be authentic to herself, Taylor has some hard choices that she must follow through with.  

“Don’t want no other shade of blue but you, no other sadness in the world would do.”  Taylor, despite all the sadness and complication of all the bearding and closeting and being gay.  She would choose Karlie because it’s authentic and true, but it has taken a toll.



I finally got The Lakes, and as such needed to add my analysis to the main post. And you really can’t without discussing Hoax too. They’re companion songs, yin and yang, can’t have one without the other.


I’m glad Taylor released an additional song, because I think this one is too negative and depressing to end an album.  It is melancholy and Taylor sounds a little defeated in it.  She basically says she’s sad, but nothing else will work, she is going to live with the sadness because her heart is taken with this person.  It’s a little bit, ‘victim of domestic abuse’ a mentality.  “This has frozen my ground”–pay attention, this becomes important later.  The piano and strings are beautiful, but the lyrics are just so dreary.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good song–I just wish Taylor was happy, and the subject was not hurting her.

The Lakes: 

The first sounds remind me of when a movie shows a record player.  A litter antiquated and slightly degraded.  I think this song is chock full of poetry references, but let me be honest–that is not where my interests lie, so I didn’t take the time to do a true analysis.  The musical backing sounds much more optimistic than the prior couple of songs on the album (Peace and Hoax).  And Taylor makes sure to indicate she wants to leave her life for this dreamscape–but not without her muse.  “A red rose grew up out of ice frozen grounds…” is a good symbol for the barren loneliness and horribleness that Taylor’s relationship with her lover grew out of.  Things were bad and cold and icy, but from that stemmed (pun!) a beautiful red flower (glitch rose, Klossy?). 

Since it follows the depression of hoax, it shows Taylor has come through all of that negativity, that’s not where the story ends (a break up and toxicity) afterall.  It’s a more optimistic closer–thank goodness.  Also, Taylor is known to start the next album from the last song of the previous so this gives the listener a hint maybe the next album will be from some English chateaux where Taylor is holed up with her lover, doing what she does best–writing.

To reiterate, Folklore is an album that allows Taylor to tell all the stories she was afraid to share before.  And since she mixed in other characters, and told us the narrator is unreliable it’s a reclamation of her own narrative.  This album allows Taylor plausible deniability. 


2 Responses to “Folklore = plausible deniability”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: